McAdam: Who are candidates to take Ortiz's at-bats?

McAdam: Who are candidates to take Ortiz's at-bats?
March 11, 2013, 8:00 pm
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Maybe it will only be for a week or so. Maybe it will be as long as a month. Or maybe it will be something that they have to deal with, periodically, throughout the season.
      
But the Red Sox are going to have to find someone to take David Ortiz's at-bats as their designated hitter -- for Opening Day and probably beyond.
      
It's not an enviable task.
     
Even last year, at age 36, Ortiz had posted an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) of 1.026 when he was injured in July, a figure that topped that of Triple Crown winner and American League MVP Miguel Cabrera, who had an OPS of .999.
      
"There aren't five guys in the game who can do what he does," remarked a scout recently when asked about Ortiz's impact on the Red Sox lineup.
      
Indeed, in the testing era, when offensive numbers across the board are down and power is a rare commodity, Ortiz's value has never been greater.
      
Attempting to find someone who can supply the same kind of run production is a futile pursuit. The Red Sox might as well look for a 20-game winner while they're at it.
      
"If (Dustin) Pedroia goes down, you can find someone -- Pedro Ciriaco, someone like that -- to play second base," said one talent evaluator. "He's not going to put up Pedroia's numbers, but you can get by with him for a while. Not with Ortiz. You're not going [to find] anyone close to him. Those guys just don't exist."
     
Still, someone will get the at-bats in early April. A look at the candidates:
      
1) Ryan Lavarnway
      
When Ortiz was out with an injury in 2011 -- a heel injury, ironically -- the Sox promoted Lavarnway from Triple A, hoping that he could help replace at least some of Ortiz's power.
      
Lavarnway was unproven, and almost a year and a half later, still fits that category. He didn't exactly dominate at Triple A (.815 OPS) and when he arrived in Boston late in the season, he seemed warn out by the catching he had done in the minors.
      
Former hitting coach Dave Magadan worked to shorten up Lavarnway's swing, but it didn't produce much in the way of results. In 153 major league at-bats last season in Boston, Lavarnway hit just .157 with just 10 extra-base hits (eight doubles, two homers) and a measly .248 slugging percentage.
      
The Red Sox still like Lavarnway's raw power and believe his swing is well-suited for Fenway. But it doesn't seem likely that, at 25, he's ready to be a threat in the middle of the lineup.
      
Lavanrway is big and strong, but for now, his power is more about projection than actual production.
      
2) Jonny Gomes
      
Gomes isn't much of an outfielder and moving him from left field to DH is actually a move that, under the circumstances, makes plenty of sense. Gomes is primarily an offensive player and his glove wouldn't be missed while he fills in at DH.
      
But here's the problem: the Red Sox don't yet have a suitable platoon partner for Gomes in left -- he crushed lefthanded pitching, but is far less dominant against righthanders. So moving Gomes to DH, while logical, creates an opening for two outfielders, rather than one.
      
As it is, the options are limited, at least offensively. Ryan Sweeney is a plus defender. But over his last 771 at-bats, across the last three seasons, Sweeney has exactly two homers.
      
Daniel Nava, who deserves credit for improving exponentially in left, is not a power threat either. Nava has seven career homers in the big leagues over 148 games.
      
Moreover, Sweeney is lefthanded and while Nava switch-hits, he's far more dangerous from the left side than the right, leaving the Sox without someone to make a third or so of the starts in left against a lefty pitcher.
     
(For those who believe Ortiz's unavailability would open the door for Jackie Bradley Jr. to make the team out of spring training, that would appear to be wishful thinking. The Sox have made the determination - first reported by WEEI.com -- that Bradley, who has yet to play above Double A Portland, would be better suited by opening in the minors for at least a month or so).
      
3) A trade
      
There are suitable repalacements on the market, including the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano and the Angels' Vernon Wells.
      
The Cubs would pay most of Soriano's remaining $36 million through 2014 while the Angels would expect any team to pick up a healthy chunk of Wells's $42 million salary over the next two seasons. The problem is, both are significant investments for what the Red Sox are hoping will be a short-term problem.
      
The expectation is that Ortiz will be available by mid-April or so, and, with some careful management, should be able to give the Red Sox 500 or so plate appearances for the rest of the season. If that's the case, how do the Red Sox justify taking on money (or, in the case of Soriano, giving up a prospect) to help them through a few weeks in April?